Airbnb hosting – I’ve had a gut full

I recently read an article about people in the over 60s age bracket making a bit of extra retirement income through Airbnb hosting. The article instanced a couple in WA who were waxing lyrical about sharing their 12-acre property with their guests, who are housed in a small cottage next to the main house and enjoy lots of home comforts and perks such as freshly laid eggs for breakfast. Sounds blissful doesn’t it? Arm’s length hosting must be very cruisy, but what about those of us who are sharing our space with our guests?

When I started offering my spare room on Airbnb in December 2015, my first guests were two Italian girls. They arrived in the middle of the night and continued to keep Night Owl hours throughout their stay, often snagging me in long conversations and tourist map reading sessions at 11 p.m. at night, all the while boiling up their pasta and frying steaks. One night I lay awake worried that they had missed the last train – they had – and on another occasion they walked round the house at 1 a.m. talking animatedly on Skype with their relatives back home.

Then there was the young French guy who I almost gave up for dead when he failed to emerge from his room until 7 o’clock at night. His mother (an Airbnb host herself), who had made the booking, sent me a flurry of texts in French shortly before he arrived asking me if I knew of a chiropractor as he had a trapped nerve in his shoulder. He arrived mid-afternoon and went straight to sleep. I then drove him to the appointment, and afterwards he took the train to the CBD and stayed out, so he told me in his three waking hours the next day, until 5 a.m. Although he smoked outside, it took me several days and scented candles to get rid of the smell of cheap aftershave from his room.


My second guests were a delightful American couple who were riding round Australia on a custom-made tandem bicycle. We all got on fine and I didn’t mind them using the kitchen or Dan watching TV into the wee small hours, but I had to smile when they ate their toast, jam and peanut butter on pieces of kitchen paper rather than on plates.

By contrast, the very friendly Malaysian mother and son pretty much used my place as a dormitory. They may have put a carton of milk in the fridge but were otherwise out from about 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Perfect! But lovely as they were, they left the bathroom floor awash, their room stank, really stank, of tiger balm when they left (emptying the bin I could see his mother was taking medication for osteoarthritis), and I also discovered dark purple henna stains on the carpet. Luckily my solution dyed nylon carpet is very forgiving when it comes to stains.

What and how guests eat can be quite revealing. A Chinese mother and her 14-year-old son, who stayed recently seemed to be at a loss when it came to breakfast time. I don’t offer breakfast unless guests request it, but Jane’s English was pretty patchy so maybe she had misunderstood. I zoomed into action and put some banana loaf and scones to heat in the oven. But as they were heating up, Jane remembered she had provisions and came back clutching some stale bread rolls she had bought in transit in Hong Kong. She eschewed my offer of butter and jam and stuffed down the bread with gulps of milk. The son then yawned his way into the kitchen nibbling on a skewer of congealed meat. It turned out that the pork skewer also originated in Hong Kong. Amazed that the meat had not been detected by customs, I calculated that it was at least 36 hours’ old (they had arrived in Melbourne at 6.25 a.m. the previous morning) and had been out of the refrigerator all that time. Needless to say the child had a stomach upset the next day.

But my most recent guests – a couple of 20-something Japanese girls – really do take the biscuit(s) when it comes to culinary quirkiness and kitchen aggravation. They only ate out one night in six. From fried fish to home-made beefburgers and stir-fries, they seemed to be at the stove morning and night, using metal implements in my non-stick pans and washing up under a cold running tap. My tension levels rose and I could feel my jaw clenching every time they came back bearing heavy bags of groceries. Oh no! Not ANOTHER cook-up?! Like a guest in my own house, one night I asked to use the kitchen first so they started to wash the rice in their bathroom to speed things up. Later on they let the rice burn dry and the whole house smelt of charred rice. Never mind, they were going to the Great Ocean Road the next day and I would have the house to myself. So I thought. But they didn’t leave till 10.30 a.m. as they were busy boiling up more rice to make sushi which they filled with spam. Spam sushi?!!

I was out on their last night but got back in time to find them frying up a bit of leftover spam. Euphoric at the prospect of them leaving the following morning, I shared with them the Monty Python spam sketch on YouTube and taught them to sing Spam, Spam, Spam. I put all the pans away before I went to bed and left them scouring the burnt rice pan with a steel wool sponge.

But when I got back from walking Bertie on the beach the next morning, they were back at the stove again, frying up MORE spam, boiling eggs (the replacement eggs they had bought me) and making toast. Then, to my amazement, one of the girls, Hiro, went into the freezer and put a huge dollop of salted caramel ice cream (I had offered them ice cream the first night) on top of a piece of toast. Spam, eggs, cashew nuts, spinach and ice cream all on one plate. Then, as they were getting ready to leave, they asked if they could take the biscuits I had put in their room, container and all. Noticing that they had snaffled all the tea bags too, I wrapped the biscuits in cling film and handed them over. Anything to get them out the door. It really does take all sorts to make a world.

Spam, spam, spam

Spam, spam, spam

Spot  the  toast topped with ice cream!

Spot the toast topped with ice cream!

Continental Confusion, Krakow and Commissions

Hello, I’m returning to my blog after a long gap. In August, I went ‘home’ to England to see my elderly parents, family and friends – more about that in future posts – and returned to Australia via a few days in Frankfurt (ahh, Europe…) at the end of September. I came back suffering the usual dose of continental confusion! Where is home, what is home, where do I want to live/retire? Those long-haul flights don’t help; they merely intensify the feeling of distance between Australia and everywhere else. When I first get back, I remain suspended in some kind of limbo, my head and heart still in my mother’s kitchen while my physical self has landed on Australian soil. Sometimes it’s a schizophrenic existence having two parallel lives across a large divide. But I am glad to say I’m feeling far less conflicted than when I first returned.

There’s nothing like springtime blossoms, a beloved dog with floppy spaniel ears, a bunch of fabulous friends and a busy new job to anchor me back here. I’m now a month into my new job and it’s varied, fun and stimulating but busy, client- and deadline-driven so I don’t always have much juice left over for blogging.


That was what was such a treat when I was away; how I relished keyboard-free time without the constant need-to-know pull of social media, without deadlines, word counts and writing commissions. Seven weeks without my mobile ringing – can anyone remember what that is like?! I only went onto international roaming a couple of times: once when I spilled red – very red staining to purplish blue – fruit tea on my sister’s brand new carpet and missed the train to Margate as a result; and the second time when the return train from Margate was delayed due to a trespasser on the line.

This trip was more luxurious than previous European trips. I travelled Premium Economy which, although nothing like as comfortable and pampered as Business Class, was well worth the investment in terms of the overall travel experience (in fact I got a great price as my itinerary involved a hop-skip-and-a-jump 10-hour layover in Hong Kong both ways and a stop in Frankfurt). The food is a bit better, the seats are longer and wider and recline further than in economy minimising sleep-sabotaging episodes of neck slumping, and, with fewer people, there’s more air to go round.

I also ditched Airbnb accommodation in favour of hotels as, frankly, I am over shared bathrooms and kitchens and self-catering. Lovely as the spacious attic room in Krakow (November 2014) was, when I ran a bath it leaked all over the floor as the tub needed sealing with silicone. Then the window-less broom cupboard-sized shower room stank of damp. You get the picture.

No, this time I stayed in a boutique hotel in Margate with funky chandeliers, sea views, great food and cocktails, and in Frankfurt I went to a family-run hotel just outside the city complete with pool, spa and sauna, patisserie, chocolate shop, fabulous restaurant and flirtatious barman! Again, that’s another story. But don’t get too excited…

Frankfurt's Eiserner Steg or Iron Bridge - complete with lovers' padlocks

Frankfurt’s Eiserner Steg or Iron Bridge – complete with lovers’ padlocks

Anyway, back to my November 2014 visit to Krakow, a gem of a city packed with history and interest. And full of museums. Hence my travel feature commission titled ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’. I ran around Krakow in an adrenal whirl packing in as much culture, caffeine and culinary delights as I could in the three days I was there. No time for luxuriating. Hopelessly conscientious (I was a bit of a swot at school…), I visited all bar one of the museums mentioned in my article. So I was particularly pleased when my article was finally published last month in travel magazine Get up & Go. If you’d like to read it, click on this link:

In flight from a pest-ridden house…

About two weeks ago my Airbnb guests got back to find the contents of my food cupboard in a plastic crate on the front doorstep and several of my jumpers in the freezer. As you do…

The preparations aka Military Campaign for my extended trip overseas to spend all important time with family began about a month ago. I needed to finish up two jobs – one of them a maternity cover contract with high expectations and ambitious KPIs, organise my travel plans and get my house and garden in order ready to rent out – a job in itself.

I was doing pretty well, even if running on adrenalin, and found it a good opportunity to test drive some of the time-management strategies suggested by Brendon Burchard of the Performance Academy (as mentioned in my last post). To share a few of them: he recommends not checking any social media for the first hour of the day and, instead, focussing on what you need to achieve. I found that to be so simple and effective in freeing up and clearing my headspace. Because, as he points out, the minute we tune into the emails and messages we’re taking on other people’s agendas and demands, and we lose our focus. I put my phone on airplane mode before I go to bed and leave it like that until after breakfast. He also advocates dividing the working day into 50-minute blocks broken up by drinking water and stretching. And, importantly, ditching the social media and screens again at the end of the day and finding some time to meditate or do something that gets us into a less thought-driven and more grounded space before bed.

But then I discovered critters in my cupboards. I was getting ready for a meeting with my new boss (I have an exciting new job starting later this year) when I Googled ‘how to get rid of moths’ and up came ‘how to get rid of moths in the pantry’ and ‘how to get rid of moths in clothes’. My initial search was prompted by holes in my jumpers but then I realised, with a sense of panic, that the worm-like creatures lurking in my food cupboard and on the ceiling were pantry moths – well the larvae anyway. I’d never even heard of pantry moths before, let alone seem them. The hour that I had set aside to compose myself for the meeting was spent frantically chucking out dry foods – the larvae get everywhere even under lids of spice jars. Some were even inching their way across foil sachets of Miso soup while others were hanging out in the rice noodles. Yikes! I scrubbed the shelves and left them clear for several days – hence the food that I had not yet inspected being relocated to the doorstep – until I blasted them with barrier spray and then set up tent-like moth traps that I bought in the hardware store. Fingers crossed that they don’t stage a comeback when my guests move in a week after I leave.

A pantry moth larvae

A pantry moth larvae

My sister has been through the whole saga of moths in her clothes and instructed me to wash all my jumpers and then put them in the freezer for a few days before placing them into individual plastic bags. Sounds simple enough but not when you’re working 12-hour days, getting ready to go overseas AND have about 50 items of wool in your wardrobe. At the time of writing, my departure is about 12 hours away and I am just cycling the last woollies through the freezer and into vacuum-packed bags. The trouble with these critters is that they are discerning and choose the highest quality wool and cashmere, leaving aside the more ordinary sweaters made of acrylic and other man-made fibres, damn them. And, from what I read, they can graduate to other areas of the house and tuck into rugs, linens, towels and curtains. Perhaps I will come home to find my house full of holes like a piece of Swiss cheese…

Just some of my many woollen items

Just some of my many woollen items

deep-freezing my jumpers

deep-freezing my jumpers

One of my mother’s favourite expressions is ‘what a pest!’ meaning what a nuisance. Now I know just how much of a nuisance. My house and garden seem to be ultra attractive to pests. Mid-packing I’ve just zipped out and zapped my lemon tree as some kind of leaf mite was chomping its way through the leaves, then I noticed a bulge where a gall wasp had set up home, and THEN I came back inside and there was one of those European cockroaches crawling across my kitchen tiles. As you might know none of this has anything to do with cleanliness. Regular readers know that I’m a bit of stickler when it comes to cleaning. So maybe it’s payback for something I did in a past life – who knows?!

Needless to say I have not talked about bugs and beasts in the detailed house manual I have prepared for my tenants. But maybe I should have; listening to the science program in the car the other day I learnt that having a pet spider in the house is a great way of keeping other creepy crawlies at bay as the spiders eat them for dinner. The program gave spiders a very good rap.In one of my more Buddhist moments a few years ago, I did allow a Huntsman spider to live in the corner of my study window. The only trouble was that, after a few months, lots of tiny black dots appeared in the web and I realised they were babies. Did I really want to share my house with about 30 spiders? Needless to say I had to dispatch the spider and its babies to the next life. There’s a limit to this co-habitation thing; I’m finding the Airbnb guests enough.

But now it’s my turn to take flight and be a guest myself. By the time this goes out, I’ll be on my way to England to spend precious time with family and friends especially my elderly parents. And true to the original meaning of the word holiday(s), as in holy day(s) – a rest from the daily grind – the blog and are going off air and taking a break to rest and recharge away from the keyboard, the emails and all the stuff I do in my day job! That way I’ll be more available for my family and for new adventures. We’ll be back in October. Stay tuned.

Getting back to business

It’s been a long time between blogs! I started a new job a month ago which, although part-time, has taken up a lot of my energy and headspace. Since 2007, I’ve worked mainly freelance from home, so adjusting to the environment of an office – the politics, the gossip, the rules, procedures, policies and timesheets, KPIs and performance appraisals, crazy workload and deadlines, meetings and the need for frequent injections of caffeine and sugar – felt a bit like going back to school. I make sandwiches and pack my satchel the night before and make sure I have done my homework. Because part-time jobs always spill over into non-work time. Especially in the not-for-profit sector.

Having said all that it’s an interesting role in the fundraising department of one of Melbourne’s best-loved charities, one that has been looking after the homeless and disadvantaged for over 30 years. As I’m covering for someone on maternity leave, I’m only there for six months so I was in at the deep end from day one. It was super intense to begin with as I gave myself a crash course in everything from their systems, databases, computer idiosyncrasies (don’t get me started…) and programs to the people I would need to get on-side.


Now I’ve learnt Google Mail (not nearly as efficient as Outlook), a new database and figured out how the online timesheets work, not to mention the phones, things are beginning to calm down and I am no longer working like a headless chicken. In fact, I worked so fast and furiously to start with that I wrote down my bank details incorrectly, which meant that my first pay cheque bounced. Perhaps it was a Freudian slip and I’ve got stuck in lack mode. Poor me…

But no! Something seems to have shifted in the last few days. I feel a need to discard things, habits and behaviours that are no longer serving me and to challenge some of the limiting beliefs standing in my way. It’s the old head versus heart argument. It’s great to be in a good job, writing funding submissions but what happened to the calling of the soul aka creativity? It’s definitely time to pick up my book again – I keep getting little nudges from the universe.

A friend recently invited me to a motivational workshop entitled: “The Beginner’s Guide to Becoming an Author.” The focus was not on the writing itself but on developing the discipline of writing and of creating a clear vision of the published book, then working out what steps you need to take to achieve that goal. One of the steps is to identify any negative beliefs getting in the way. You know the ones: What will people think?; I’m not good enough; Who would want to read my story?; I don’t have enough time; I’ll never make it and so on.

As we went through the exercise of dumping unhelpful beliefs in an imaginary bin, I had an aha moment! I realised why I had abandoned my book a couple of years ago. I got as far as finishing it and submitting it to publishers and nearly made it over the line. But despite some of the very encouraging and positive feedback I received, I only listened to the rejections. It all seemed too hard and I gave up.

Soon after the motivational workshop a friend emailed me a link to a book that is about a woman coming out of her shell. She said it reminded her of me and that I should not give up on my book. Then this week I had a kinesiologist staying as an Airbnb guest. I mentioned my book – en passant – and the following day she said she had a strong feeling I should persevere with it. She also very generously gave me a treatment as she sensed that I had a few ‘blocks’ she could help to clear. How lucky am I?! Marie is hugely intuitive and picked up on all sorts of aspects of my life, past and present. That is what’s so wonderful about kinesiology – it’s not a talk therapy; instead it works on muscle testing and feedback from the body. AND the body never lies.

So this week I’m going to dive back in to my book –as in getting back to the REAL business – and follow the advice of my friend in Felicity. Throw caution to the wind, write as if no one is looking or listening and see what comes out. Don’t think about the reader, just write. As if to underline that message I saw a great Natalie Goldberg quote this week: “Play around. Dive into absurdity and write. Take chances. You will succeed if you are fearless of failure.”

Budget living and bargains

You get what you pay for I thought as I walked into the Airbnb place I had booked in Torquay (my sister always thinks of Fawlty Towers when I mention Torquay but I am of course referring to the township at the start of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia).

After an almost constant stream of Airbnb guests since the first week of December and having started a new job the week before last, I was ready for a break, one where I was the guest. For $65 a night and dogs (Bertie) allowed, I guess I shouldn’t complain but it did look and sound nicer in the description and pictures. In fact, it was definitely more Fawlty than Five Star: the kitchenette and bathroom were more or less one and the same with the sliding door to the toilet and shower jammed at three quarters shut (I’m glad I was alone; I’m bladder shy at the best of times); the mini bar fridge froze my salad; and a laundry trough sink doubled up as the place to wash teeth, hands and dishes. It reminded me of a unit I rented in 1770 (the place not the year!) in Queensland where it was the same situation in reverse. I had to do the dishes in the hand basin. And in both places I had to unplug the kettle before I switched on the toaster. See what I mean about the Fawlty-ness?


The bedroom was OK in a very no-frills way with views over the nondescript garden of scrubby grass and a Hills Hoist washing line. It was all rather cobwebby behind the bed, the cupboards in the same brown wood as the toilet door were also jammed, and a sad sedum with leggy roots sat in a glass bottle on the window sill. Never mind, I got to work and doctored the bed as I have a Princess and the Pea sensibility when it comes to mattresses. So I padded out the firm mattress with a spare duvet and the egg box foam topper I had brought from home.

Spot the sad sedum...

Spot the sad sedum…

You may laugh but there are legions of people out there who struggle with mattresses when travelling from home. I did a Google search on it and found my way to Tempur Pedic travel toppers that roll up into a handy bag. For a mere $599 plus shipping I could have one delivered to my door. That’s not financially feasible right now so the $15 egg box topper from Kmart was rather a steal.

Thanks to therapy in the form of the first episode of Series Five of Downton Abbey and a lighting a nice candle to brighten the place up – not to mention my homemade salad (before the minibar got to it) – I nevertheless felt like I was on holiday, albeit one more akin to camping.

Although the place lacked frills and finesse and had no views, it was a case of Location, Location, Location! It was situated right across the road from the beach. So the minute we arrived Bertie and I dashed down to the dog beach and both swam and lay in the sun. The next day the temperature dropped from the mid thirties to about sixteen degrees and we had thunder and lightning. Not to be defeated I headed to the op shop to hunt for an outfit to wear to a Studio 54 themed party. After a bit of rummaging I found a silk and satin LBD and a pair of fringed cowboy-type boots. I reckoned the boots in particular looked more 70s than noughties. Amazingly, they were in my size, brand new (with the original price tag still attached) and really comfortable.

The next morning – still cold, breezy and wet – I was walking Bertie on the beach and realised ‘we’ must have lost his ball the previous day. Not to worry Bertie, I said. We might well find an old ball somewhere. Minutes later we found an orange and blue ‘chuckit’ dog ball and thrower lying in the sand. I looked around but there was nobody to claim it so I picked it up, much to Bertie’s delight.

It felt like I was having mini lottery wins, and to celebrate I went for breakfast at Mobys, a most delightful cafe on the esplanade. Earthy, friendly and quirky with lots of different nooks and crannies, I sat on a sofa on the deck with Bertie by my feet, ordered a delicious egg and bacon sandwich and pot of English breakfast, and read my book. Bliss!



By lunchtime that day I was visiting a friend in the next door township of Anglesea. After lunch at the General Store, we called in at the Baptist’s Second Store where I found a lamp for my guest room, a table runner and a coffee table all for $30. The coffee table is one of those varnished brown jobs. With a light sand and a few coats of chalk paint I plan to transform the LBJ just as I did the drop-leaf table that my neighbours passed on to me a few months ago. Then – yes there’s more – when I got back to Melbourne a friend told me that his daughter was having a garage sale on Saturday morning. He mentioned that there were bar stools for sale amongst other things so I was there by 8am. The bar stools look great in my kitchen. Possibly a wee bit high but I’m not tall so that suits me. Taller and broader guests will simply have to sit side saddle! Convinced I was on a winning streak I bought a lottery ticket on Saturday. Needless to say that didn’t come off – not yet! Better stick to the day job.

Armchair travel

The beauty of being an Airbnb host (and I am not writing a promo here!) is that you get to meet people from all over the world and share stories, meals, laughter and life experiences. Living in Australia means that most overseas travel is medium to long haul; you certainly can’t nip off to Europe for a weekend. So bringing a flavour of those countries and customs into your house can be the next best thing.

I’m always fascinated by different customs and ways of living: toast with jam no butter (my Italian guests); toast with peanut butter and jam (the Americans); eating toast and bread off a slice of kitchen paper rather than a plate (the Americans); rinsing a clean cup before drinking out of it (the Chinese); shoes off before coming into the house (the Malaysians); and – no surprises here – wall to wall pasta with pesto (the Italians).

I asked the first people to enquire about my room lots of questions before accepting their reservation. If guests have not completed their Airbnb profile or got reviews from previous hosts, it’s a bit of a blind date. So I gave Cinzia and Giulia the third degree! After all they were due to arrive in the early hours of the morning and let themselves in to my house. Needless to say the sisters, who hail from Sulmona in the Abruzzo region of Italy, were warm-hearted and very easy to get to know. So much so that I soon had an invitation to go and visit next time I am in Europe. I’d never heard of Sulmona, the birthplace of the poet Ovid, but am now excited about exploring this small medieval city surrounded by mountains and packed with historical interest. I can just see myself sitting in one of the bustling squares, sipping a glass of wine and people watching.

Cinzia and Giulia kept very late hours and didn’t get into the Australian habit of eating early – no ‘When in Rome do as the Romans’ for them – but we did manage to share a meal together one night. They cooked a rich and flavoursome mushroom risotto and I made baked peaches with almonds.


As I have written previously my American tandem-riding guests, Dan and Vicky, were also a lot of fun. They were with me over Christmas and New Year and we went out for a special dinner on Christmas Eve, shared downtime around the house with Dan helping me with lots of ‘honey-dos’ (see xxxx), and took in a few movies and beach walks. They invited me to their home in Denver, Colorado, next Christmas and – to cut a long story short – I am saving up. Too bad that Bertie won’t be able to come too.

Last week I had my first Chinese visitors and what a delight they were. Chester and Janice are first cousins, both twenty years old. Janice is studying in Sydney and Chester came over from Guangzhou (he taught me how to pronounce it properly as Guanjo) to check out Monash University. They sometimes got into a bit of a linguistic tangle and would dissolve into giggles, which I found most endearing. They were extremely quiet and considerate around the house and cleaned the kitchen so thoroughly that I could hardly tell if they had eaten or not. What’s more they gave me a beautiful blue and white Chinese bowl with a picture of a fish, a symbol of abundance.

They cooked Western style while they were here and made me, an English woman, American-style pancakes with maple syrup one morning. As I said in my Facebook post, it was yum without the cha! To return the compliment, I cooked dinner one night. A friend asked me if I had included rice in the menu. That would have been ‘Coals to Newcastle’ so I made rack of lamb with quinoa salad with feta cheese, spinach and cherry tomatoes.


They found the salad ‘interesting’ and the lamb delicious but are not used to eating such a big meal at night. Their parents’ business is in dry foods that go into special medicinal soups. As anyone who has visited a Chinese herbalist or doctor will know, cold straight-from-the-fridge foods are a no-no, as is iced water. Warming teas, soups and rice-based meals are the go. I learnt that there are special soups for women who have had a baby, women who have just menstruated and much more. But this was a ‘when in Melbourne’ occasion and we broke all the rules. We started with a celebratory drink of Scotch whisky and soda on the rocks, ate pinkish lamb with the’ interesting salad’ (cheese is not common in China and quinoa probably non-existent) and then finished with a special dessert they made out of cooked tapioca, coconut milk and mango.

We used to get tapioca pudding at school and we all struggled to eat it, complaining that it was like frog spawn. It’s true that the tapioca pearls do have a spawn-like appearance and they are somewhat gelatinous. But I really savoured the feeling of the cool jelly-like baubles in my mouth on Sunday night. Mixed with coconut milk and mango, it was the perfect dessert for a 33-degree summer’s evening.


It was hugs all round when they left the next morning and I got to eat the tapioca pudding leftovers that night. This week I have a Malaysian mother and son staying. Who knows what we might eat, do or learn from one another? Meanwhile, I’m doing my best to take off my shoes before coming into the house!

Holidays and Honey-Dos

I learnt a marvellous new word courtesy of my American guests over the Festive Season, namely honey-do, a chore or task performed by one’s partner, husband or significant other around the house or garden as in “Honey, could you do x, y and z?’

My Christmas holidays were much busier than I planned. In addition to the emotional tripwires that creep up on me every Yuletide (missing family and traditions in the Northern Hemisphere, end of year fatigue, a bit of the Bridget Jones Blues, and this year, midlife angst about my career and earning potential or lack thereof), I seemed to be very much on the go, which, of course, is one way of avoiding the difficult stuff swirling around in my head.

What with Airbnb guests (yes, we’ve had lift off and I’m on my third booking), parties and social gatherings, gardening, cooking (including special home-made dog biscuits for Bertie), cleaning, buying new fans, returning faulty fans and choosing new models that actually work, household honey-dos, dog walking, grooming and shampooing and a LOT of chatting, I got into a rather over-stimulated spin. Then this week, the week I had set aside to mellow out and finally relax, I started to look for jobs (a job in itself), and then yesterday got locked out of my house.

Giulia, one of my first Airbnb guests and now a temporary flat-mate, locked the screen door as she was unable to close the front door. I had left it on the latch so she was doing the right thing by securing the property. What she didn’t realise is that my screen key came off my key ring a few weeks ago and has remained on the kitchen bench ever since. All a learning curve: Note to self – be clear about screen door with guests and make sure everyone including me has a full set of keys!

It’s been a new thing for me having not just one but two people in my house (the spare room is twin-bedded). Most of the time it’s fun having congenial company and ready-made dinner, movie and dog-walking companions, but there are times when I need to slink off to a quiet corner and read or simply NOT talk.

Dan and Vickie hail from Colorado and are cycling across Australia on their beautiful custom-made tandem. Amazingly, the whole bike (see picture) can be disassembled and fitted into a couple of cases. They started their Australian journey in Sydney before riding down to Melbourne and around Tassie. They came to me in preparation for the next leg of their journey to Adelaide via the Mornington Peninsula and Great Ocean Road. From Adelaide they are following the coast and crossing the Nullarbor to Perth. Not a trip for the faint-hearted!

They were with me for a couple of weeks and we started out by having dinner together at an excellent Turkish restaurant on Christmas Eve and finished up with an evening spent building self-assembly fans. As you do. Dan is a star honey-doer and helped me prune tall shrubs, take the bins out, hammer down rough nails on a couple of carpet dividers, rig up a way of keeping the laundry (Bertie’s bedroom) ventilated on hot nights, search under the washing machine for a missing pearl earring and much more. He even helped me word a difficult text. How nice it was to have a house husband!

Breakfast at the Sandy Beach Kiosk with Dan and Vickie

Breakfast at the Sandy Beach Kiosk with Dan and Vickie

Had Dan been here yesterday I wonder if he’d have found of way of opening the screen door without the key! As it was I had to drive to the Monash Campus (not my favourite place owing to a job from hell last year) where Giulia is studying. I do have a local honey-doer though – my brother. Like Dan, he’s practical, solutions-driven and likes a challenge. On Wednesday just as the mercury hit 35, my air-conditioner failed to work. As luck would have it my brother was passing by and came in to investigate. I was ready for the worst – last time it went wrong and I called out a service guy, it cost in the region of $800. Just what I don’t need on top of the midlife career crisis! After tinkering with the inside controls, Tim went outside and turned the unit on and off in an effort to ‘re-boot’ it. And it worked and is still working. What a star!

Then, last night, I decided to have one last look for the missing pearl earring. I lost it about a week ago when I had come in from walking Bertie. I heard it drop – a soft drop – while I was in the laundry but there was no sign of it anywhere despite Dan’s inventive use of a coat-hanger to sweep under the washing machine. I bought the earrings back in 2009 when I was on Thursday Island. They are high quality pearls and I love them. So you can imagine my delight when I re-checked the pocket of the jacket I had been wearing. There was the missing pearl in the inside pocket. I didn’t even know there was an inside pocket.

It’s been a funny few weeks and I’ve been rather topsy-turvy but I’m now Girl with Two Pearl Earrings and a Functioning Air-Conditioner and am counting my blessings! What’s more, last night I chanced upon one of the most stunning sunsets ever. Enough to lift anyone’s spirits!

Sunset on St Kilda Beach - 8th January

Sunset on St Kilda Beach – 8th January

Two in a bed and a lampshade on the head

It’s been a while since I shared a bed but here we were… If only he would stop tossing and turning and go to sleep. I kept ending up with my left side exposed as he (unintentionally I’m sure) hogged the bed covers, which, incidentally, are white and so were covered with his chest hairs by the morning. I think I got about four hours’ sleep. I guess it would’ve been easier if he hadn’t been wearing a lampshade on his head.

You see, I was sharing a bed with Bertie, my dog, a novelty for us both. His normal bedroom is in the laundry, and he is quite happy there. But on this occasion he was agitated, restless and a bit out of sorts. You can hardly blame him; he’d had the snip that morning and was clearly feeling the after-effects of the anaesthetic and the drugs, not to mention losing part of his anatomy.

How long do I have to wear this ridiculous Jane Austen bonnet on my head, Mum?

How long do I have to wear this ridiculous Jane Austen bonnet on my head, Mum?

I’d had him scheduled for castration last Christmas when he was nine months old. But, on doing my research, I learnt that testosterone is very beneficial for the bones, joints and muscles when a dog is developing and growing. So I cancelled at the last minute. The big drive to de-sex a male dog at six months is all about population control. But that’s not such an issue where I live: my courtyard is escape-proof but he’s anyway unlikely to pick up the scent of a female on heat as 99.9% of them have been spayed.

This Christmas – he’s now 20-months-old – I decided it was time to make my mind up for once and for all. And I decided to take the plunge. However small the risk, there’s now definitely no chance of Bertie hooking up with a girl and making babies, no chance of him getting testicular cancer later in life, less likelihood of him developing prostrate problems and some chance of him calming down a bit. Plus – and this was a bonus, not the deciding factor – the annual council registration fee reduces dramatically. A win-win, you could say.

So I was all ready to do the deed and to take this manhood-stripping decision on behalf of my beloved boy when I bumped into three dog owners sitting firmly in the non-castration camp the day before. Did I really need to get Bertie done, they asked? He didn’t seem to be displaying any of the troublesome testosterone-driven behaviours. They’d all been so glad they had left their dogs intact…. Just what I didn’t need! I wavered right up until the moment we walked into the vet’s at 8am the next morning.

Wavered and wept in fact! It’s scary handing your dog over to the surgeon’s knife. What if he didn’t pull through? What if he changed character and lost his mojo? What if? What if?! As it was he nearly pulled me over when I went to collect him that afternoon and walked him to the car. Even though he was agitated that first night, he was still up for chasing possums and rushing around whacking the walls (and my legs) with his Elizabethan collar. I’m still sporting some impressive bruises!

He was possibly a bit quieter those first few post-surgery days and we had to content ourselves with geriatric on-leash walks around the block, but I knew he was his old self when, even when encumbered by the plastic lampshade, he managed to pick up and steal my socks and run around the house until I chased him. Eight days later we had our first off-leash walk and Bertie ran around like a mad thing. Then at the weekend we went for a celebratory romp and swim on the beach.

But yesterday was our biggest adventure of all. I had arranged to have coffee with a lovely Italian friend (we met just recently when she stayed at my house with her sister as Airbnb guests) at one of the cafes in Fed Square. Now Cinzia knows I am devoted to my dog; she gave me a delightful blue mug “My Dog is my Best Friend” with pictures of paw prints and bones. So she thought it was a great idea to take Bertie for his first trip into the city and include him in on our catch-up.
He did bark at a wheelie suitcase on the train (perhaps it seemed like some kind of UFO to him) and then at the sparrows in Fed Square, but otherwise he behaved impeccably. Long may you live Bertie, my Bestie.

My first train trip

My first train trip

Watching for sparrows in Fed Square

Watching for sparrows in Fed Square


Giving My House an Airing

One of the reasons I renovated was to make my house more guest-friendly; that’s why I made a second bathroom out of a laundry cupboard and a ‘powder room,’ and created an ensuite bathroom to my room. Having two bathrooms avoids awkward nocturnal meetings in the corridor or having to queue up in your own house to brush your teeth. It’s nice to have left all that behind along with exams, backpacking and dormitories.

I’m now getting my house ship-shape for the Airbnb photo shoot, a free service offered by the hugely successful online accommodation business, which connects travellers with people in over 190 countries who have a spare room or entire property to rent out. Airbnb launched in 2008 and by 2012 had reached five million bookings. In 2014 Airbnb was valued at $10 billion, making it worth more than the worldwide portfolio of Hyatt Hotels. Impressive stuff! According to the webinar I tuned into, it’s all about building ‘virality’ (not to be confused with virility) into the DNA of your product. But that’s another story.

My Airbnb symbol - spot the beach huts!

My Airbnb symbol – spot the beach huts!

What I love about Airbnb is that you can escape the stuffy sameness of hotel accommodation and find a place that has character, is homely and enables you to meet and share stories with local residents. In December 2012 I stayed in a spacious and stylish flat in a trendy district of Copenhagen. Although I didn’t see her much (she had just met a new man), I got on really well with my host, a freelance photographer. She was great fun, helped me with my onward travel arrangements, offered me home-made marinated herring (you can’t go to Denmark and NOT try herring) on my last night and let me cuddle her pet rabbit. Although I fancy myself as something of an animal whisperer, (not counting the belligerent donkey in Greece who deliberately nudged a boulder in my direction), the rabbit took fright and shot into its burrow-like enclosure. Never mind.

That’s why I’ve decided to ask the Airbnb photographers to include a picture of Bertie in one of the shots, so prospective visitors know that this house has a resident hound, one who loves to be part of the action. I was initially worried that Bertie’s excitable nature was going to make it difficult with guests coming and going. But, thanks to a recent one on one training session, the boy is beginning to understand that jumping up is not cool but that sitting down definitely is, and earns him a few edible treats. He does still bark in tandem with the neighbours’ dogs (they don’t seem to understand that dogs, especially those designed to herd sheep need regular exercise, ARGH!) but if I catch him and shake the jar of coins before he flies out the laundry door flap and barks up a storm, he stays by my side ever hopeful that a biscuit will magically drop out of my pocket. I never go anywhere nowadays without dog poo bags and treats…

He does still bark furiously at the possums and gets so worked up that he tries to climb the fence, so I only let him out a couple of times before bed. I’m hoping that my guests will be so enchanted by Australia’s nocturnal native animals that they will overlook the occasionally canine cacophony. I can always offer earplugs as part of the package.

Barking at possums - who me?!

Barking at possums – who me?!

The tryanny of lists

I’m really no good at DIY but I am good at lists and ticking them off. Although there’s always a list forming in my head, I have been a bit less ‘listy’ of late, so it was with renewed fervour that I raced through a to-do list this week, so much so that I couldn’t stop.

Life always gets a bit intense before I go overseas – I’ve got about 12 sleeps to go – and the devil is definitely in the detail. Today I tried to print off my train ticket from Vienna to Zurich (a bargain 49 Euros for a seven and a half hour scenic journey – if you can work out how to print off the ticket…). So drawing on my (rusty) university German, I called the OBB, the Austrian railway, and got through to a most charming woman. I managed to explain the problem and found out that I had chosen the pick up at the counter option rather than online printing. Everything was going swimmingly until I realised I didn’t know how to end the conversation. Luckily the woman got in before me and I remembered it’s Auf Wiederhoeren – meaning until we hear each other again – rather than Auf Wiedersehen (as in pet, anyone remember the British comedy?) – until we meet again. Another thing for the list: brush up my Deutsch!

Back to the DIY: one of my jobs has been to re-paint a couple of shelves in the bathroom as the paint had peeled off in two sections where a bottle of essential oil had spilt. I duly went into the shed for the vile oil-based enamel paint that the rip-off painters (see had used back in July. Then I put on some really old clothes, set up the dust sheets, did a bit of light sanding, pulled on a pair of special gloves (last time I got paint all over my hands and even my nose!) and did a reasonable job only spilling a bit of paint on the glass shower screen. Once completed, I felt proud to have done the job and celebrated by taking Bertie to the park. I met a fellow dog walker and apologised for smelling of turps. She said she couldn’t smell anything but noticed I had quite a bit of paint in my hair… It never ceases to amaze me that I am perfectly competent in many areas of my life but develop Mr Bean-like tendencies when it comes to home maintenance.

In between the freelance writing, I’ve also done some cooking (got my former (elderly) neighbours for morning tea this weekend), cleaned my high maintenance black and white bathroom floors, went to ALDI, op shops, second-hand furniture shops, prepared my spare room for next week’s Airbnb photo shoot, cleaned up my garden and leaf-strewn carport and took photos of my house to show folks back home. I also put up three small pictures in my guest bathroom (a few holes short of precise but my bodged attempts were easily covered) and then zipped off to JB HI-FI for new back-up drive (the old one died) and an HDMI cable so I can watch films playing on my computer on the TV screen. All very satisfying stuff but rather helter skelter, achievement-driven and rushed. So I’ve been delighted by the series of beautifully written and well observed blog posts from a friend who is a WWOOFER (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) in Japan. She’s living with a very eco-minded family who have a deep connection to the land, observe rituals and live with precision, total attention and mindfulness, qualities that are uncommon in today’s ego-driven materialist world. Her blog is called A Man, A Woman and Four Languages, and I thoroughly recommend it.

“Yesterday evening I was given a lethal hatchet knife to slice up spring onions. But my 3mm slices weren’t good enough; 1mm was what was required. Not for the first time I felt very uncivilised. So, this morning, when Rie asked me to arrange some umeboshi plums from the bin where they’d been soaking in brine, to a flat basket, to dry, I made sure that they were arranged exactly as briefed. Which meant really slowing down, and concentrating. It’s the same with the gardening, because of the approach to weed control

How do they get anything done when it all takes so long? I asked her over email. She replied “most of their life centres on the basics of growing, cooking, cleaning, washing, heating, maintaining. And these tasks aren’t chores to be completed as fast as possible; they are the stuff of life, i.e. the end as much as the means. ….doing jobs as quickly as possible isn’t the point.

I really must hurry up and look at self-publishing my book titled, SLOWING Down in the Fast Lane: From Adventure to Zen and Everything in Between.